The Institute for The Study of War stressed it was not yet clear if the Kyiv units had “broken fully” through this third defensive layer or if they had retained their new positions.
However, the Washington-based think tank also said the advances and ability of Ukrainian forces to operate so deep into Russian-held territory were “important signs of progress in the Ukrainian counter-offensive”.
In its latest update on Vladimir Putin’s war, the ISW said: “Ukrainian armoured vehicles are operating beyond the final line of the Russian defensive layer that Ukrainian forces in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast (province) are currently penetrating, although ISW is not yet prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have broken fully through this Russian defensive layer.”
It added that geolocated footage posted on September 21 indicated that Ukrainian armoured vehicles advanced south of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles in a tri-layered defence and engaged in “limited combat” immediately west of Verbove (18km - 11 miles - southeast of Orikhiv).
The ISW military briefing added: “The presence of Ukrainian armoured vehicles beyond the final line of the current Russian defensive layer indicates that the Ukrainians have secured their breach of the first two lines of this layer sufficiently to operate vehicles through the breach.
“Ukrainian forces have likely suppressed Russian artillery and other anti-tank systems in the area enough to bring their vehicles forward.
“The Ukrainian ability to bring armoured vehicles to and through the most formidable Russian defences intended to stop them and to operate these vehicles near prepared Russian defensive positions are important signs of progress in the Ukrainian counter-offensive.”
The Russian military, said to be suffering poor morale and with some units with little training, had been unable in this south east province of Ukraine to stop Kyiv forces from making “gradual but steady advances” since mid-August.
Putin’s generals had laterally redeployed some “relatively elite units” to reinforce Russian defensive operations in western Zaporizhzhia province, including the 7th Guards Mountain Airborne (VDV) Division and the 76th Guards VDV Division to the Robotyne area in mid-August to repel Ukrainian attacks, the ISW added.
Russian troops defending front-line trenches were reported to be “poor-quality,” but that counterattacking assault troops were “stronger”.
In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London said: “Over the last four days, both Russia and Ukraine have experienced unusually intense attacks deep behind their lines. There have been reports of explosions at Russian logistics sites, air bases and command posts in Crimea, the Krasnodar region, and near Moscow.
“It is highly likely that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has again been heavily targeted. However, the explosions at Chkalovsky Air Base, near Moscow, are likely to be of most strategic concern to Russian leaders.
“This is a sensitive location because it hosts specialist military aircraft as well as VIP transport for Russian leaders.”
At least one person was killed in Russian shelling of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Friday, the regional governor said.
Oleksandr Prokudin said on the Telegram messaging app that a 25-year-old man had been killed and another person wounded when residential districts came under fire in the city, which is close to the front line.
The shelling caused fires in a house and a garage, he added.
Kyiv drove Russian forces out of part of the Kherson region last November after several months of occupation, but Russian troops have continued shelling the regional capital and areas around it from across the Dnipro River.